Microsoft Preparing New Push for ARM-Powered Windows Laptops

Tom Warren, reporting for The Verge:

Microsoft is getting ready to fully unveil its vision for “AI PCs” next month at an event in Seattle. Sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans tell The Verge that Microsoft is confident that a round of new Arm-powered Windows laptops will beat Apple’s M3-powered MacBook Air both in CPU performance and AI-accelerated tasks.

Keep in mind when this event takes place that raw CPU performance isn’t what makes Apple silicon great. It’s performance-per-watt, along with the efficiencies of the entire OSes being optimized for the architecture.

After years of failed promises from Qualcomm, Microsoft believes the upcoming Snapdragon X Elite processors will finally offer the performance it has been looking for to push Windows on Arm much more aggressively. Microsoft is now betting big on Qualcomm’s upcoming Snapdragon X Elite processors, which will ship in a variety of Windows laptops this year and Microsoft’s latest consumer-focused Surface hardware.

And the next version of Bluetooth might offer rock-solid reliability.

Microsoft is so confident in these new Qualcomm chips that it’s planning a number of demos that will show how these processors will be faster than an M3 MacBook Air for CPU tasks, AI acceleration, and even app emulation. Microsoft claims, in internal documents seen by The Verge, that these new Windows AI PCs will have “faster app emulation than Rosetta 2” — the application compatibility layer that Apple uses on its Apple Silicon Macs to translate apps compiled for 64-bit Intel processors to Apple’s own processors.

Faster x86 emulation than Rosetta 2 would be quite the achievement, but is it really a bragging point? Three-and-a-half years into the Mac’s Apple silicon era, we’re so far into the transition that almost every app is now native. Are there any remaining pro Mac apps, where performance matters, that still only run under Rosetta?

Whereas on Windows, there’s relatively little ARM-native software, despite the fact that Microsoft started pushing ARM-based Surface devices back in 2012 — 12 years ago. Rosetta emulation is already a non-issue for Mac users in 2024, but x86 emulation might remain forever a problem for Windows. Windows laptop users would surely agree that they’d like longer battery life and quiet fans (if not fanless laptops, like the MacBook Air), but they seemingly have no desire to buy ARM-based machines.

So I guess the favorable comparisons to Rosetta 2 aren’t about being competitive versus the Mac, but instead are an attempt to reassure skeptical Windows users that, this time, ARM-based Surface laptops really will perform just fine even running x86 software. That’s condemning both of all existing ARM-based PCs and the state of x86 chips from Intel and AMD. The implicit message might be that the best way to run x86 Windows software is with an ARM-based chip. That’s certainly the case for Apple silicon Macs — they’re so fast and so efficient that right out of the gate they ran Intel-compiled apps as fast — or faster — than Intel-based MacBooks could. But Microsoft has a real “boy who cried wolf” problem on this front — they’ve made this promise before and it hasn’t panned out.

Tuesday, 9 April 2024